Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Broadcaster Finds the Joy in Baseball

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Broadcaster Finds the Joy in Baseball

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods, Times-Union sports columnist

Shortly after turning 50, Neal Conan had a choice.

Stay on the same career path or take a detour. Have millions of listeners or dozens. Cover big-time politics or small-time baseball.

Work for National Public Radio or the Aberdeen (Md.) Arsenal.

"My wife was really pleased that I managed to locate a sector of the broadcast industry that paid even less than public radio," Conan said last week.

He had always dreamed of being a big-league broadcaster. But you don't start at the top. You start where he did in the summer of 2000, making $75 a game, working for a radio station with about the same watts as a dim light bulb, biking to home games, riding buses to away games, staying in hotels that were distinguishable by their smells -- none of which was from pillow mints -- and knowing that he absolutely, positively made the right decision.

"It reminded me why I got into radio in first place," he said.

Conan is back at NPR, hosting Talk of the Nation every afternoon. He started doing the show on Sept. 10, 2001, having no idea just how much the nation would have to talk about the next day.

Five days earlier, he had turned in the final draft of a book: Play by Play: Baseball, Radio and Life in the Last Chance League.

The story of his summer in Aberdeen -- sort of a coming-of-middle-age tale -- is why he is in town this weekend for Much Ado About Books.

The book has struck a chord with lovers of minor-league baseball and with anyone who has dreamed of quitting their job and, as Conan says, "running away with the circus."

While he was working on it, and working out to lose a few pounds, one of his sons made a comparison to Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Conan laughs about this -- "I don't think my departure was quite as radical, nor my next-door neighbors as interesting or strange" -- but agrees that he was feeling trapped, looking for an escape hatch. …

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